MLB DEEP DIVE – 8/1/17
This may be the strongest pitching slate of the season so far. There are several viable pitching options in every price range. My personal approach is going to be to target pitchers in the mid-range and value tiers so that I can pay up for bats, but I will still discuss the expensive pitchers in this article for anyone that does want to pay up.
Max Scherzer is the most expensive pitcher on the slate, at least on some sites. He faces the Miami Marlins in Miami. Miami’s projected lineup features five right-handed hitters plus a pitcher. Scherzer has been the best pitcher in baseball against right-handed pitching this season, striking out 45.1 percent of right-handed hitters while allowing a .172 wOBA. He is human against lefties, allowing 1.58 home runs per nine innings, but still boasts an impressive 27.2 percent strikeout percentage. There are no true power lefties available for Miami, and the ballpark suppressed left-handed power, so it is not a dangerous matchup for Scherzer. Miami, as a team, has struck out 20.5 percent of the time against right-handed pitching this season but Scherzer is obviously not your average pitcher. In his last start against Miami, Scherzer recorded a 23.1 percent swinging strike percentage and 43.6 o-swing percentage.
Chris Sale is in a tougher spot than Scherzer as he takes on the Cleveland Indians at Fenway Park. Most of the Cleveland switch-hitters have less power from the right side of the plate than the left side, which is why some people do not like to target them against left-handed pitchers. It is still a difficult matchup for opposing pitchers, however, as Cleveland has struck out just 16.6 percent of the time against lefties this season. Sale has been phenomenal this season, striking out 36.7 percent of hitters, and 37.7 percent of right-handed hitters, while recording a 15.8 percent swinging strike percentage and 36.3 o-swing percentage. While Sale is virtually matchup proof, it is important to keep in mind that the depth of the pitcher position on this slate allows us to be very picky about who we roster.
Carlos Carrasco faces off against Chris Sale and the Red Sox. He is available at a steep discount from Scherzer and Sale, particularly on DraftKings and FantasyDraft. His 27.4 percent strikeout percentage ranks fourth on the slate behind only Sale, Scherzer and Chris Archer (facing the Astros in Houston). While the Red Sox do not strike out very often, they have been susceptible to chasing pitches out of the strike zone as they have the 8th highest o-swing percentage in the majors over the last 30 days. While Carrasco’s 29.5 percent o-swing percentage is just shy of league average, he has the 3rd-lowest o-contact percentage among qualified starters- putting him in the company of Corey Kluber, Robbie Ray, Lance McCullers and Max Scherzer in the top five. While hitters do not chase a relatively high percentage of his out of the zone pitches, they do not make contact when they do. The Red Sox lack of plate discipline suggests they could strike out more than usual in this matchup. In addition, Carrasco has been better away from Cleveland. Since the start of last season, Carrasco has struck out 28.0 percent of hitters wih a 3.23 xFIP and 0.8 home runs per nine innings away from home compared to a 24.1 percent strikeout percentage with a 3.56 xFIP and 1.7 home runs allowed per nine innings at home.
Aaron Nola does not have the name value of the other pitchers listed so far, but he has been pitching phenomenally well lately- striking out 32.3 percent of hitters over his five starts in July. He set a career high with 10 strikeouts in his last start in a tough matchup against the Astros. Tonight he faces the Angels in Los Angeles. The Angels usually do not have many strikeouts in their lineup, but they also do not have much power and it is a positive park shift for Nola. It is not an ideal matchup and I will most likely not roster Nola because of the upside available for less, but he showed in his last start that he is capable of piling up strikeouts against anyone so he is a viable option despite the matchup.
Carlos Martinez is a tournament option as he travels to Milwaukee for a dangerous matchup against the Brewers. While the Brewers have a lot of power in their lineup, they also are a strikeout-happy team. They have a 26.8 percent strikeout percentage over the last 30 days and have struck out 25.3 percent of the time against right-handed pitching this season. They also are projected to have a predominantly right-handed lineup, which is a big deal for Martinez. Martinez has allowed a .251 xwOBA with a 29.9 percent strikeout percentage against right-handed hitters this season compared to a .339 xwOBA with a 21.7 percent strikeout percentage against lefties. Eric Thames and Travis Shaw could do damage against Martinez, particularly Shaw, but Martinez will have the advantage against the rest of the Milwaukee lineup. Martinez had a weird start in his first outing against the Brewers as he allowed no earned runs over 7.1 innings, but struck out just 4 Milwaukee hitters. He is a high-risk/high-reward option tonight.
Mike Fiers has been very good lately, improving drastically after a terrible start to the season. Since May 30th, when Fiers first began limiting his cutter usage, he has struck out 28.2 percent of hitters with a 3.72 xFIP and 0.6 home runs allowed per nine innings compared to an 18.4 percent strikeout percentage, 4.89 xFIP and 3.5 home runs per nine innings before May 30th. Fiers’ numbers have been especially good against right-handed hitters, striking out 29.0 percent with a 3.52 xFIP, 0.5 home runs per nine innings, a 50.6 percent groundball percentage and a 15.4 percent infield flyball percentage. Tampa Bay will most likely have close to an even mix of righties and lefties, but Fiers has been good against lefties as well, striking out 27.4 percent with a 3.97 xFIP. There are a ton of strikeouts in the Tampa Bay lineup and Fiers makes for an excellent tournament option as he has 30-point upside in this matchup and is very unlikely to draw much attention on a slate this loaded with options.
Sean Manaea is starting a day earlier than planned after the Sonny Gray trade, but he is on normal rest so we should not be concerned. He has been one of the unluckiest pitchers in baseball in terms of strength of schedule, as 12 of his 19 starts have been against teams that rank in the bottom 10 in strikeout percentage against left-handed pitching. Despite the string of difficult matchups, Manaea has still managed to strikeout 23.4 percent of hitters with a 12.7 percent swinging strike percentage and 32.7 o-swing percentage this season. The bad news is that Manaea gets yet another low-strikeout matchup against the Giants. San Francisco hitters have struck out just 18.9 percent of the time against left-handed pitching this season, good for 4th-lowest in the majors. On the plus side, the Giants have a .291 wOBA and 80 wRC+ against lefties so Manaea should be able to limit damage against him. On a lot of slates Manaea would be one of my top pitchers, but there are enough very good mid-range pitchers in good matchups that it will be hard for me to pass them over for Manaea.
Jimmy Nelson stands out as one of the most underpriced pitchers on the slate in his matchup against the St. Louis Cardinals. Nelson has turned a corner this season and been dominant against hitters from both sides of the plate. He has allowed a .297 xwOBA with a 2.97 xFIP to lefties with a 31.8 percent strikeout percentage and a .258 xwOBA wit ha 3.32 xFIP and 22.4 percent strikeout percentage to righties. Do not be alarmed by the lower strikeout percentage to righties, as Nelson has always been better against right-handed hitters and it has trended upward as the season has gone on. Over the last 30 days, Nelson has struck out 31.1 percent of right-handed hitters while maintaing a 32.2 percent strikeout percentage against lefties. The Cardinals’ projected lineup has 6 righties, 2 lefties and a pitcher. St. Louis has been strikeout-happy over the last month as well, with the 10th-highest strikeout percentage in the majors at 23.2 percent. Nelson currently grades out as my number one pitcher on the slate on DraftKings and FantasyDraft and he is a strong play on FanDuel as well.
Jose Berrios is an early candidate to be my primary SP2 option on two pitcher sites as he faces the San Diego Padres in Petco Park. The Padres have shown upside in recent games, but it is a great matchup for Berrios. The Padres’ projected lineup has just three lefties in it, in Carlos Asuaje, Yangervis Solarte and Cory Spangenberg. Berrios has had trouble with lefties this season, striking out just 18.8 percent while allowing a .351 xwOBA. He has dominated righties, however, with a 25.0 percent strikeout percentage, 45.6 percent groundball percentage, 17.0 percent infield flyball percentage, 25.0 percent soft contact, just 18.0 percent hard contact and a .255 xwOBA allowed. The Padres’ 24.9 percent strikeout percentage is the 4th-highest in baseball over the last 30 days and their league low 6.3 percent walk rate plays to Berrios’s advantage as well. Do not hesitate to roster Berrios coming off a tough start agains the left-handed heavy Dodgers. This kid’s stuff is electric and he is in a prime strikeout matchup.
Ricky Nolasco is far from the sexiest name on the slate, but he is available at a very reasonable price on two pitcher sites in a nice matchup against the Philadelphia Phillies at home in Anaheim. Nolasco has been inconsistent this season, as expected, but he has flashed up side at times. He has only faced five teams that we would consider a strikeout-friendly matchup since May 24th. Those teams were the Rays twice, Texas, the Yankees, and Kansas City. He had mixed results in those outings overall, but his strikeout numbers were encouraging for the most part. Over those five starts, he averaged a 12.9 percent swinging strike percentage (three games higher than 13 percent and two lower than 10 percent) with a 32.3 percent o-swing percentage and 8 strikeouts per 9 innings. He has an above average matchup tonight against the Phillies who, while improving offensively with the addition of Nick Williams, have the 9th-highest strikeout percentage in the majors over the last 30 days at 23.3 percent. There is obviously more risk with Nolasco, and the rest of the pitchers in this tier, than with the pitchers mentioned earlier but there are a lot of hitters to pay up for on this slate and taking a risk on a dirt-cheap pitching option with upside makes some sense.
Anibal Sanchez is a very high-risk option that has a path to do well and allows us to load up on bats. He is just $4,900 on DraftKings and $9,600 on FantasyDraft (he is not in play on FanDuel where you only need one pitcher). Since returning from the minor leagues on June 19th, Sanchez has been a pretty average pitcher, striking out 20.6 percent of hitters with a 4.30 xFIP. He has been better against righties, however, and the Yankees’ projected lineup has six right-handed hitters. Against righties since returning from the minors, Sanchez has a 22.4 percent strikeout percentage and 4.0 percent walk percentage, a 3.59 xFIP, a 46.2 percent groundball percentage, and a 13.3 percent infield flyball percentage. New York’s 24.1 percent strikeout percentage over the last 30 days ranks as the 6th-highest in baseball. This is only a deep tournament play, not a play that you should have a ton of confidence in, but there is a path to success for Sanchez and he would put you in an excellent position if he succeeds.
Charlie Blackmon is tied with Eric Hosmer and Corey Seager as the most expensive hitter on DraftKings and FantasyDraft and he tops the list on FanDuel in a lefty-lefty matchup against Steven Matz in Coors Field. The natural tendency is to shy away from the lefty-lefty matchup, but that is not the case tonight. Steven Matz has been awful this season, whether it is a result of injury, mechanics or just not being a good pitcher. He has not been nearly as bad against lefties as righties, however. Where Blackmon’s value comes is on the base paths. Matz has only struck out 17.4 percent of lefties this season so, even though he has been more effective against them, Blackmon should be able to put the ball in play. The combination of Matz pitching to contact, Blackmon’s speed and the spacious Coors Field outfield makes it likely that Blackmon will be able to reach base. If he does, he is almost guaranteed to steal. Matz has the 5th-highest stolen base-to-stolen base opportunity rate of all pitchers since 2013 and opposing runners have been successful 81 percent of the time that they have attempted to steal against him. Blackmon has not been running as much this season as in past seasons, but this is a prime spot for him. In addition, the Mets are likely to only have one available left-handed reliever in this game, as Josh Smoker threw 24 and 17 pitches in the last two games. This means that Blackmon should have plus matchups against the bullpen once Matz is knocked out of the game.
Nolan Arenado gets the favorable righty-lefty matchup against Matz. Arenado has 204 at-bats (230 plate appearances) against left-handed pitchers in Coors Field since the start of 2015. He has a .455 wOBA, .333 ISO and 153 wRC+ over that time. Matz has allowed a .356 xwOBA to right-handed hitters this season while allowing 2.19 home runs per nine innings and striking out just 16.0 percent. Arenado is clearly a top hitting option on the slate.
Michael Conforto gets the Coors Field bump as he faces Jeff Hoffman. Hoffman has struck out just 17.9 percent of left-handed hitters this season while allowing a 47.2 percent flyball percentage. He has really struggled at home, allowing a .379 wOBA and 1.29 home runs per nine innings to lefties. Conforto is the best hard fastball hitter of the Mets’ power lefties and has crushed right-handed pitching this season to the tune of a .391 xwOBA and .297 ISO.
Justin Smoak is in another prime matchup tonight against Mike Pelfrey. While Pelfrey has been relatively good against right-handed hitters and done a good job of keeping the ball on the ground, that is not the case against lefties. Against left-handed hitters this season, Pelfrey has a 42.1 percent flyball percentage and has allowed 2.35 home runs per nine innings. Smoak has crushed right-handed pitching this season, with a .401 xwOBA and .299 ISO. He is my number one first base option.
Anthony Rendon will be virtually unowned on this slate with Nolan Arenado eating most of the third base ownership in the expensive price range. Rendon makes for an intriguing tournament pivot from Arenado. He has the 4th-highest xwOBA (.450) of the 257 hitters who have at least 50 at-bats against left-handed pitching this season and his .375 ISO ranks 6th. He will face Chris O’Grady, who has struck out just 18.0 percent of right-handed hitters this season while allowing 42.9 percent flyballs, 38.1 percent hard contact and a .394 xwOBA. The ballpark in Miami will not do Rendon any favors, but he has the power to hit it out anyway.
Joc Pederson faces right-handed rookie Lucas Sims in Sims’ major league debut. Sims has posted excellent strikeout numbers at AAA this season and he has significantly lowered his walk rate, which used to be an issue for him. Where Sims has struggled is with the long ball. Sims has allowed 19 home runs in 115.1 innings this season after allowing 12 in 50 innings at AAA last season. 10 of his 19 homers allowed this season have been to left-handed hitters. This puts all of the Dodgers’ power lefties in play, but Pederson stands out as the strongest play because of his relatively low strikeout percentage this season. Although he is known as a boom-or-bust hitter, Pederson has actually only struck out 19.9 percent of the time against right-handed pitching this season while recording a .254 ISO. His ability to put the ball in play this season gives him the advantage over the flyball prone Sims. He, like all of the Dodgers lefties, will benefit from hitting at SunTrust Park in Atlanta as well.
Travis Shaw is another interesting tournament pivot away from Nolan Arenado if you are looking to differentiate there. He is at home against Carlos Martinez of the Cardinals. While Martinez has been very good against right-handed hitters, he has struggled with lefties. Martinez has allowed a .339 xwOBA to lefties, striking out 21.7 percent and allowing 1.49 home runs per nine innings. Shaw has quietly had a huge season for the Brewers, posting a .372 xwOBA and .288 ISO against right-handed pitching.
Trey Mancini is relatively inexpensive compared to the other hitters mentioned, but is expensive enough that he is still included in this tier. He will face Ian Kennedy at home in a spot that I expect will go overlooked. Kennedy is a home run prone flyball pitcher who should struggle in Camden Yards. Kennedy has allowed 1.45 home runs per nine innings to right-handed hitters this season. Mancini has been one of the best power hitters on the Orioles, with a .257 ISO against right-handed pitching. He has more than one multi-home run game already this season and is in a very nice spot tonight.
I really think that paying up for as many hitters as you can is the way to approach this slate, as there are so many expensive hitters in phenomenal spots. If you need value bats, however, it is going to be important to make sure those bats have actual upside and are not just cheap filler plays (with the exception of $2,900 Jonathan Lucroy at the catcher position- he sucks but, whatever, it is catcher).
Adam Jones has been mediocre this season, but he does have a .182 ISO against right-handed pitching. While that is not elite, it is not bad either and he is available for just $3,400 on DraftKings. As was mentioned earlier, Kennedy is a flyball pitcher coming to Camden Yards. That is not a recipe for success and Jones is cheap enough that he is worth a shot if you need a cheap outfielder.
Staying in the same game, Brandon Moss is facing Dylan Bundy. Moss has had a disappointing season for the Royals, but there is reason to expect success tonight against Bundy. Bundy’s plate discipline numbers have been pretty good on a consistent basis since his May 23rd start but, digging a little deeper, he still has tremendous splits. Whereas he has struck out 29.1 percent of right-handed hitters over that time, he has struck out just 10.5 percent of lefties and he has allowed 2.2 home runs per nine innings to left-handed hitters. Moss is most dangerous when he is facing a pitcher who is not a strikeout threat, as is the case tonight. Moss will also benefit from the hitting environment at Camden Yards.
Nick Castellanos has destroyed left-handed pitching this season and gets a ballpark boost going from Detroit to Yankees Stadium. C.C. Sabathia does a pretty good job of limiting damage against him, but Castellanos’s .417 xwOBA and .376 ISO against left-handed pitching this season are elite. If not paying up at third base, Castellanos gives you huge upside for a discount.
Robinson Cano is the premier second base option and he is very inexpensive on DraftKings and FantasyDraft. Nick Martinez is starting in place of Yu Darvish, but Cano is priced for Darvish on dynamic pricing sites. Martinez has allowed a .398 wOBA, .351 xwOBA and 1.98 home runs per nine innings to left-handed hitters this season. Pitching at home in Texas will not help Martinez and it is a big ballpark boost for Cano. Cano has a .384 xwOBA and .232 ISO against right-handed pitching this season.
Yuli Gurriel is an interesting option where he is priced down to face Chris Archer. First base is surprisingly thin on this slate, as most of the top hitting options have tough matchups. That makes the opportunity cost of paying down to Gurriel less than usual. Chris Archer is not the same pitching outside of Tropicana Field and Houston is a much tougher place to pitch. Gurriel only has a .323 xwOBA against righties this season, but he has a .205 ISO. He also very rarely strikes out and very rarely walks, which always makes him an appealing tournament option since he has power and almost always puts the ball in play.
Derek Fisher is also cheap on dynamic pricing sites against Archer. Fisher is a rookie, but has been impressive in his limited time in the major leagues as he has posted a .477 xwOBA and .313 ISO against righties so far. At AAA this season, Fisher had a .410 wOBA, 144 wRC+, and .293 ISO in 384 plate appearances. He also stole 16 bases. There is a lot of upside for a low price.
Colorado Rockies/New York Mets- We have to get Coors Field out of the way first. This is a phenomenal spot for both teams. Jeff Hoffman has struggled at home this season and the Mets get two offensive boosts to their lineup tonight as Neil Walker returns from the disabled list and top prospect Amed Rosario joins the lineup, presumably in place of Jose Reyes. On the other side, Steven Matz has not been striking hitter out this season as he appears to still be dealing with an injury or mechanical issues. His 7.0 percent swinging strike percentage will not play well in Coors Field and his inability to prevent baserunners from stealing will not do him any favors either. The Rockies are expensive, but they have all the upside in the world in this spot. And their ownership is likely to be relatively low, particularly as a full stack, since it is a full slate and because people will insist on paying up for a big name pitcher.
Seattle Mariners/Texas Rangers- Another full game stack possibility here as the Mariners and Rangers face off in Texas with Erasmo Ramirez and Nick Martinez on the mound. Ramirez has been good against right-handed hitters this season, but he has struggled mightily against lefties. This puts Choo, Mazara, Odor, Gallo and Drew Robinson (if he cracks the lineup) firmly in play. Nick Martinez generally does a good job of not getting blown up, but he is home run prone and the Mariners have a lot of power. Normally it would be a spot to target one-offs, but the Mariners are priced down on dynamic pricing sites because they were scheduled to face Yu Darvish. This allows you to get a ton of upside for cheap if you stack them and the Rangers bullpen is not good, and just lost Jeremy Jeffress, so there is the potential for big innings throughout the game if they can knock out Martinez early.
Los Angeles Dodgers- The Dodgers face hard-throwing rookie Lucas Sims in his major league debut. It is a great park shift for the Dodgers, who figure to have a lot of left-handed power in their lineup. Sims compiled a lot of strikeouts in the minor leagues and has done an excellent job of correcting the walk issues that he struggled with in previous seasons. He gives up a lot of flyballs, however, and has allowed 31 home runs in 165.1 innings at AAA over the last two seasons. I am personally more likely to target one or two hitters per lineup from the Dodgers since Sims is a high strikeout pitcher and the Braves have three lefties in their bullpen, but there is merit to stacking the Dodgers as well since they do have a ton of power throughout the lineup.
Houston Astros- The Astros have a tough matchup on paper against Chris Archer, but the Astros are always a strong tournament stack and this spot is not as bad as it appears. Archer is more home run prone and strikes out less hitters away from Tropicana Field and the Astros do not have many strikeouts in their lineup, even without Carlos Correa and George Springer. Anytime a strikeout-dependent pitcher faces a powerful offense that does not strike out, it is a dangerous spot for the pitcher as their game usually does not require them to limit hard contact since they strike out so many hitters. Add in that the Astros are cheap on dynamic pricing sites and it gives you a very high upside stack that can be paired with two great pitching options.